Donald Trump's latest Cabinet pick may be his most important to date. Elaine Chao, who served as President George W. Bush's head of the Department of Labor, will be stepping into the role of secretary of Transportation, according to an email statement from the presidential transition team. And she'll have a lot of work to do under the new administration. She's made history as the first Asian-American woman to serve on a presidential Cabinet and proven herself a competent bureaucrat, but there's a high-stakes, trillion-dollar question looming over this newest announcement. Will Chao support Trump's infrastructure plan? It's very likely, since she's agreed to take the position, but how she follows through on Trump's plan will define her tenure.
“Secretary Chao’s extensive record of strong leadership and her expertise are invaluable assets in our mission to rebuild our infrastructure in a fiscally responsible manner,” Trump said in the transition team email. “She has an amazing life story and has helped countless Americans in her public service career. I am pleased to nominate Elaine as Secretary of the Department of Transportation.”
As secretary of Transportation, Chao will have a huge job overseeing Trump's controversial proposal to invest $1 trillion in infrastructure over the next 10 years. Back in August, Trump said he wants to “build the next generation of roads, bridges, railways, tunnels, sea ports, and airports,” which would generally fall under Chao's purview as head of the Department of Transportation.
As secretary, she'll oversee the Federal Aviation, Highway, Railroad, Transit, and Maritime Administrations in collecting data and making recommendations on how best to improve these resources. Preliminary recommendations on how to approach Trump's plan were almost certainly part of the discussion when the pair met at Trump Tower last week, so it's safe to say that Chao and Trump are in early agreement on a way to move forward with his policy proposal.
Though infrastructure is typically a nonpartisan issue in and of itself, the two dominant political parties have very different approaches to funding, which is the main concern for the president-elect's proposal. Trump's plan to give private investors massive tax cuts and ownership of investment projects is already drawing criticism from the left. The liberal Economic Policy Institute claimed that the plan will result in projects that profit private companies instead of badly needed public works that would be more likely accomplished under a direct spending program. Trump claims his plan is superior since it theoretically won't cost the government anything, but it will also create a dangerous precedent of privatizing public utilities and making roads unaffordable.
Chao's appointment to this post is so important because infrastructure is one of Trump's priorities that everyone should be able to get behind. Trump's controversial views on climate change, LGBTQ+ rights, and immigration are so unpopular that people are rooting for him to fail as president, but infrastructure is one of the few areas where all Americans should hope for successful change. The question now is how will that change come about, and will it happen in the best way to benefit everyone, not just a few. Chao should be an integral part in making sure that equality is achieved, and will hopefully fulfill her duty to the whole country.